Under the Gray Skies, page 1
Under the Gray Skies
Under the Gray Skies
By Jacqueline Druga
Copyright 2016 by Jacqueline Druga
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any person or persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
Thank you to Paula Gibson, Kira R., and Shona M for all your help. A lot of time and effort went into this from you guys and I appreciate it.
Cover Art by Christian Bentulan
ONE - BACKPACK
The flesh on her right hand and wrist was discolored, hard and cold as it extended out from the wall of wreckage. It was all that remained of my sister. All that I could see. I held on to that hand for days, just holding it, crying, until I could no longer hold her hand because the flesh would rot off against my own fingers.
How I survived was a mystery. There had been no moment of regret, no sudden fear, no final thoughts screaming in my mind, “This is it. I’m going to die.”
There was however, complete astonishment when I opened my eyes and was still alive.
I woke to find my average size female body curled in a fetal position in a space no bigger than four by four feet. My own tiny box. It was pure luck the way things crumbled around me. I was the fortunate one, trapped in some sort of air pocket haven that had formed from the end section of the airport tram car.
My sister and the dozens that were around me weren’t so lucky.
Upon regaining consciousness, I was disoriented. I could feel metal and concrete surrounding me. Of course, I was pretty sure I was upside down. The blood rushed to my head but I was able to turn myself around and move my legs a bit. They ached some and I wasn’t sure if it was due to my prior position, or an injury.
The straps to my heavy backpack were still hooked over my shoulders, and that was when I realized, that pack probably saved my life. At the very least it protected me from something smashing against my spine. I was grateful at that moment that I hadn’t set it down, or checked it like my sister insisted I do.
“Just check it, Lace,” she said. “They’re asking for volunteers to give up their carry on. It’s free.”
She gave up her carry on and flashed the claim sticker. Lindsay almost had me convinced … then it all began.
Now that carry on was my life saver.
At first it didn’t matter what was in that bag … at first. I was stuck in this black spot. I couldn’t see anything. I could smell a hint of smoke and there was a dust of some sort that kept making me cough every time I cried out, “Help! Someone! Help!”
It seemed like I called out for hours. Over and over.
No one answered. In fact, there wasn’t any sound. Not a moan, or cry in the distance. There wasn’t a sound of anything falling, or water dripping.
After what I believed was a couple hours later, my small safety pocket brightened some. Not much. A glow of gray light seeped thought a fist size hole four feet from my face and I was able to make out my small surroundings. Three quarters of my little area were the remains of that airport tram. The metal was twisted around me and crushed beneath concrete. I wondered if the tram broke. The hole of light seemed to come from a wall of rubble around the severed edge of the tram car. The light also brightened that pocket enough for me to see my sister’s hand, it protruded from the debris and steel. It wasn’t far from me the entire time.
I screamed when I saw it, recognizing the ring on her middle finger. The same hand I was holding when things shook and fell down around us.
How did I survive, and not her? We were right there, together with the dozens of people that made it out of that airport terminal. Yet, I was alone, alive?
The small circle of light was also enough for me to see my watch. My mother’s watch. It was old and it had to be wound up daily. The face of the watch had cracked, but I could still see enough to tell the date had moved once and it was sixteen hours since I stood at that airport gate with my sister.
How long had I been unconscious, rolled in a ball?
Inching about that pocket of space, I peered out the hole.
There was nothing to see. It was as if I were in some sort of gray cloud. I didn’t know if I were high above the debris, or close to the ground.
I just knew my position in that mound of crumbled airport didn’t matter. I was certain no one was near enough to hear me cry out. I was left to my own resources.
TWO - DELAYED
We called it the three legged race. Not that it was a race, it wasn’t anything like it. I suppose Lindsay and I could have given it a better name, like the tripod vacation. It was something we planned for years. Waiting for not only the available time, but also the finances to do so. Neither of us had disposable cash. Our dream vacation was the product of our hard work.
We started planning it when Lindsay moved to California with her husband, knowing full well it would take years to achieve. It broke my heart when she moved away. Her husband Kyle was in the Navy and was transferred out west. Her daughter Crystal was only three.
We talked daily, sometimes three or four times a day. Not only that, we texted and spoke through social media. The separation was tough. We were close. Lindsay was a year older, but everyone treated us like twins.
She worked as a nurse’s aide, I was one of three leasing agents at a public housing apartment complex. When the opportunity arose we stepped up on planning our trip. It really was a fluke. Every other week I drove a hundred miles to visit my mother for the weekend. Once a month, she and I visited the casino. Sixty dollars into my monthly gambling excursion, I hit a jackpot on a fifty cent bet. It wasn’t a huge jackpot, eighteen hundred dollars, but enough for my husband to take that money, tuck it away and say, “Plan.”
The money was enough to cover the airfare for the both of us on our dream trip. The plan was for me to fly out to California, visit her, Dave and Crystal, then after three days she and I would go to Vegas. Finally, both of us would fly to see my mother where we’d all spend time together.
It had been years since I saw her.
I loved the time I spent with her and her family. It went by so fast.
Lindsay was a good hearted soul who worked too hard. Then again, she had a hard job. She never complained about it. In fact, she talked highly about those she cared for and worked with. She walked with a limp and moved like someone far older than her forty-one years. Years of lifting patients gave her a bad back. I joked about that as much as she joked about my desk job rear end.
She had children late in life, I was done early.
Lindsay was without a doubt the closest friend I ever had.
We never fought. Not even as teenagers.
Spats, yes, fights, never.
In fact, we got into a fun spat about my carry-on backpack. I told her she would thank me at thirty thousand feet when I whipped out my one quart freezer bag full of tiny booze bottles for us to sneak on the flight.
It was a perfect trip, and a perfect day.
They had just made an announcement requesting passengers to check their carry ons free of charge because the flight was full. Of course it was full, it was one of those bargain airlines. The kind where you don’t get seat assignments just a boarding order line. We were line A and had just gotten into place when the tremor hit.
Being from the East, it was all new to me. The vibration along with the strange hum in my ears, made me panic slightly. While Lindsay wasn’t an earthquake connoisseur, she was barely
In fact, she waved it off as nothing and we stayed in our place in Line A.
We were settled in our spot when the second shake hit.
It was stronger and harder. It lasted about fifteen seconds. I grabbed onto Lindsay to keep my balance. The lights blinked, people screamed and the power went down.
I saw it on Lindsay’s face, she didn’t dismiss that one.
We were still in line and the power came back on rather quickly. Only a few minutes later, every single flight switched to ‘delayed’.
“We apologize for the inconvenience,” a woman announced over the PA. “At this time, we ask you to take a seat. The flight will board momentarily.”
A quake. A delay.
People groaned and moved to the seats.
I looked at the monitors and watched as every single flight changed to ‘Canceled’.
“What the hell?” My words were cut short when another tremor hit, it was followed by another hard shake.
Then I saw it on my sister’s face, almost a revelation, like she knew or remembered something. I didn’t ask her about it at that moment, I should have.
Was it a keen instinct? Did she read something on the news that foretold of disaster?
“Something is wrong. Let’s go,” Lindsay said. “We aren’t leaving any time soon. We need to head out before everyone else does.”
“Oh my God, is this the big one?” I tossed my backpack over my shoulders.
“Really?” Lindsay looked at me as if I were nuts and shook her head.
“What about our luggage?” I asked, trying to keep up with her pace.
“Our luggage? My luggage. Yours is over your shoulder. Let’s just move.”
We did. We walked at a fast pace, weaving in and out of people moving in the same direction, quickly passing them by.
I kept looking around. People stared at the monitors, checked their phones. We … just moved.
Finally, we made our way to the tram system and waited with a large group of people.
“I don’t understand why we’re leaving?” I asked.
“I have lived here for years and never felt anything like that. There may be something bigger coming,” she said. “I don’t want to be here if there is. I’d rather be home.”
That made sense.
There were always other flights.
The doors to the tram slid open and we moved inside. Even if at that moment we opted against leaving, we didn’t have a choice. The people behind us pushed us in and we boarded with their momentum.
We stood next to each other holding on to the vertical bar, close to the windows, when the tram began to move.
Just as the speeding tram emerged from the tunnel and rounded the rails outside, all power was lost and the tram slowly moved along the tracks until it stopped between the terminal and parking lots Mumbles of confused voices filled the tram at a high decibel.
“Oh my God,” Lindsay said, and grabbed my hand.
She was staring out at the city.
What? What did she see?
I finally looked.
I don’t know what she saw, but what I witnessed was terrifying. A huge, billowing gray cloud blocked everything on the horizon, even the sky. It plowed our way faster than any wave of water could. I had no idea what it was, what caused it or what was behind it, all I saw was the massive gray cloud eating everything in its path.
It seemed to get bigger, contorting in a menacing way. The closer it drew I could see debris within it, swirling around.
We were trapped.
High above the ground on the rail.
People banged on the doors, trying to open them. Where were they going to go?
Covering the horizon, all that we could see was that gray cloud rolling our way.
I clutched Lindsay’s hand tighter.
My heart raced, I didn’t breathe, and for some unknown reason, I wasn’t scared. Because I knew … no debating it, no reason to be frightened, there was nothing to be done.
I braced for impact.
It took all of twenty seconds for our fate to arrive. It seemed longer, like in slow motion. It moved closer, bigger, I held Lindsay tighter and it hit us like a huge truck slamming into a car.
The impact caused us to jolt back as glass shattered and sprayed everywhere. I saw from the corner of my eye at least three people fly out the broken windows. I felt the pressure of others ramming into my back, but it was brief. Before I too flew out, the tram lifted and my body sailed backwards slamming into the car load of people behind me.
Was I holding Lindsay’s hand at that moment?
We flipped around inside the tram like cement in a mixer until we fell to the bottom when it hit something. The ground perhaps? Or a building? Bodies flew about the cab as the tram began a high speed roll. I imagine many were ejected. I banged around only a few times that I could recall. After that, nothing.
I don’t remember stopping, or the last time I saw, or touched Lindsay.
I just remember opening my eyes, totally surrounded in black.
THREE - REFLECTION
It was my own dark womb. Small and snug like a baby in utero, I was able to turn and move my body enough where I could be in a comfortable position. The fist size hole in the debris was my escape, but unlike a baby, there was no way I was getting through that hole. None at all. Unlike the uterus, my space was cold. Oddly cold.
For the first three days I sat there crying, still holding my sister’s hand, screaming out for help. I had removed a T-shirt from my backpack and placed it over my face as a protection from the dust. It irritated my throat and my lungs. Finally, I stopped screaming.
There was no noise out there. Where were the rescue workers? Every time there was any sort of natural disaster, rescue crews were always sent immediately to the scene. What made this one different? Why were there no sounds of trucks, men shouting, or dogs barking as they sniffed through the wreckage?
There was none of that.
Only total absolute silence.
Had I been thrown so far away from it all that for some reason we weren’t even in the scope of a possible rescue? My sister’s hand deteriorated, creating a stench that I ended up getting used to. Still, it broke my heart. In a dark space, there’s only time to think. I started thinking of my family, her family. Our children. My son, Evan was at Boy Scout camp, that first week. My husband was on a vacation, not only from work, but from me and my oldest daughter, Jana. She had just gotten her driver’s license. She must have sent me thirty texts a day while I was gone.
Thinking of her made me pull out my phone.
It was dead. Not an ounce of power.
I imagined my family around the television, watching the news, wondering if I was dead, or alive.
Lindsay’s family was only a few miles from the airport. Undoubtedly, they had been caught in whatever occurred. That was the million dollar question, what did occur?
I thought about that as well.
‘The Big One’ came to mind until I remembered that cloud. Was there a terror attack, was the city bombed? It reminded me of the videos I saw of the huge cloud when the Twin Towers fell in 2001. Only this one was stronger, bigger and faster.
What possibly could have happened to make that much of a huge debris field?
I kept going back to nuclear war. A bomb went off nearby, or something powerful like that. That scenario played in my head, making me fearful of leaving that hole.
Of the very little knowledge I had about nuclear weapons one thing I knew for certain, they caused lack of power because of the EMP, which caused no phones to work and deadly radiation.
If a nuclear bomb went off, it was a ‘no win’, catch twenty-two situation. I either stayed in that hole and died, or left and died.
No matter what choice I made, radiation would harm me. Either way I was screwed, and probably dead.
My sister joked about my packing abilities. I didn’t pack like a survivalist, I packed like a thrifty mom taking her kids on a long flight. Of course, I was ... sans the kids. In the end, it was the same difference.
My carry on backpack was my survival bag for the flights on the no frills airline. It was one of those that charged you for everything. Four dollars for coffee and a cookie, two bucks for a bag of chips.
Lindsay said she’d be embarrassed if I pulled out the backpack and rummaged through it for food. I told her jokingly, “Wait until I make myself peanut butter crackers and wash them down with vodka.”
I said that jokingly, but I was never so grateful for my ridiculous snack pack, as I was in that hole.
While I didn’t have the quintessential survival bag, I had stuff to help with my survival.
With no idea how long I’d be there, I rationed immediately.
I had a couple bags of chips, a sleeve of crackers, some fruit snacks, and those individual peanut butter to go packs, some candy, four bottles of water and a quart freezer bag stuffed with airline size bottles of booze.
I didn’t gulp the water, I sipped it.
The first three days, I wanted to drink with urgency, especially when the dust tickled my throat. I’d bring a drink to my mouth, swish it around and slowly swallow it.
It rained on the fifth day, a torrential downpour. I didn’t even realize it rained in California.
I extended my two empty bottles outside that fist size hole and filled them.
I didn’t drink them. Instead I set the bottles aside, still unsure if the air and water were contaminated. I figured I’d use them as a last resort.
It was after that storm that some of the rubble blocking me in grew muddy and soft. At first I used my fingers picking at the mud, then after the first full rock dropped out, I knew I could escape.
Even without a rescue crew, if I could make that fist size hole big enough, I could leave. Granted, digging my way out had crossed my mind, but I quickly dismissed that due to my fears of being exposed to radiation.